On May 1st I got a lovely email from Kate Bradford. She is an industrial hygienist (occ health and safety) as well as a potter and has specifically researched safety hazard risks to potters.
Not only does Kate know how to protect against the dangers of wood firng she has done the leg work and found some reasonably-priced sources for things like I have listed below.
So I wrote Kate back and she agreed to help me put together a shopping list for woodfire PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to make sure we are all using the right stuff and not overpaying for it.
Here is Kate’s husband all tricked out for full safety during a wood firing. I recently had a really good conversation with Linda Christianson about good safety gear, and how it makes you relaxed and able to do you job well without hurry or stress, which benefits the firing. Hurrying a stoke or overcompensating because the firebox is too hot to approach can damage the ware you are working so hard to produce.
What’s most important is to have something that is ANSI-rated again IR/UV exposure, and you don’t especially need something like blue (didymium) lenses to do this as long as they attenuate IR/UV sufficiently.
Kate really seems to like the Oberon Face Shield when there is a lot of heat, though it works when you gazing at cone packs as well. You do need to get both the shield and the ratchet gear
Respirators are definitely not ‘one size fits all’ - either in terms of size or model.
Most important is to match the respirator’s filter to the hazard.
For dusts (glaze, dry chemicals, etc.), a well-fitting N-95 filter should be appropriately protective assuming that the face piece fits/seals well.
[Extra info: ’N-95’ means that it filters out at least 95% of particles down to 0.3 microns in diameter, but is not resistant to oil. The most protective dust filter is a P100 - which means it filters out 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns and is resistant to oil. P100 filters are the old “HEPA”, or high efficiency particulate air filters.]
During the heavy reduction phase of wood firing, the black smoke coming out of the kiln contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Recommend using a respirator with an organic vapor cartridge to protect against PAHs
Some filters/cartridges can be used in combination. For instance, a 3M paint cartridge protects against both organic vapors and also has a P100 pre-filter.
Disposable N-95 respirators work reasonably well against dusts when sanding, mixing dry clays or glazes, or cleaning up kilns. Getting a disporable N-95 respirator with an exhalation valve tends to make them more comfortable than a hospital-type N-95 disposable because they tend to trap less moisture.
I prefer an elastomeric half-face respirator because it seals better and tends to provide more protection.
Be sure to buy the same manufacturers' filter cartridges as the respirator face piece (i.e., a 3M with a 3M, or Honeywell with Honeywell, etc.).
Note: size is determined by the distance from the bony bridge of the nose to the chin. Medium is supposed to fit the majority of the population, but sometimes women need a small - not necessarily because of the size of the face/head, but because - in my case - the distance from nose to chin is short.
My favorite respirator is a 3M half-face with a combination acid-gas/organic vapor/P100 filter (it pretty much covers everything!). Here are links to what I bought:
Folks should wear hearing protection whenever it’s noisy enough to have to raise your voice to be heard or if you find it too loud to comfortably carry on a conversation.
Hearing loss is gradual and tends to affect high-frequencies first. If it seems like people are mumbling more, it might be because we are affected by noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). If this is starting to happen, first - you can save money because you won’t need top-end stereo equipment (you won’t be able to hear the difference!), but second - it’s important to protect what hearing you have left.
There are lots of different types of hearing protection, but the best kind is what’s comfortable for you. I prefer corded ones like these, but the most important thing is to find something comfortable. Here’s a link to various types.
Many folks like muffs, but sometimes hard to wear if also using safety glasses or a respirator.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a free app for smartphones that measures noise in decibels. It might be worth finding out how loud things are. Try to wear hearing protection whenever noise levels are above 85 dBA.